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Tackling the Big Questions: Thinking Philosophically in Grade 3

10 Apr 2019

Aristotle famously said: “All people by nature desire to know.” Perhaps the best demonstrators of this are children as, without prompting, they can produce a seemingly endless array of wonderful (and often random) questions that can leave even the most educated adult speechless. “Can animals think?” “What is time?” “Who invented maths?” This is just a small sample of the questions children will expect us to answer before undoubtedly replying with the follow up question… “Why?!” Sometimes, it might be all too tempting to reply with the timeless classic: “Because it just is”, in an attempt to end the conversation so we can turn our attention towards something else that we believe ‘matters more’. However, at Huili School, and within grade 3 in particular, this is not the case. We believe that asking difficult questions does matter and the harder the question is to answer, the more worthwhile it is: Therefore, each week, grade 3 have been exposed to a new ‘big question’ to which we dedicate time to consider and discuss before producing an individual written answer, either in class or for homework. We define a ‘big question’ as any question that doesn’t have an obvious answer – in fact, it could have multiple answers – making it an inclusive activity where everyone’s opinion is valued.

Taking on the big questions Exploring these philosophical questions calls on the pupils’ ability to imagine and reason while discussing important topics like: Values: Which is the most important Huili Value? Justice: Is exaggeration a lie? Wellbeing: What is the most useful thing I have learnt? It also develops the pupils’ English communication skills as they must listen to the opinions of others and give counter arguments supported by their own experiences or examples – “I disagree with … because I know that sometimes…”.

Putting philosophy into practice All this philosophical thinking and discussing culminated recently in a project given to Grade 3 pupils over a four-week period. The project required each pupil to prepare and deliver a speech in their performing arts class. In their speech, the children discussed a ‘big question’ of their choosing and it was extremely pleasing to see the hard work, thoughtful preparation and confident public speaking demonstrated by the pupils. Moreover, in every speech that was produced, it was particularly impressive to see that the pupils all gave at least two possible answers before concluding with their own theory on what they believe is correct. This demonstrated their ability to think critically, as well as the ability to view a problem from the point of view of others – a truly worthwhile skill! Learning the value of asking questions

These philosophical classroom discussions are just one of the many ways the specialist Western and Chinese teachers of grade 3 plan a challenging and diverse curriculum to develop pupils as individuals as well as academically. In each lesson and around the school, the pupils are required to display the Huili Values of Courage, Responsibility, Kindness, Integrity and Respect to create life-long confident and curious learners. These are not skills that are just learned to pass a particular exam, they are skills that will remain with the pupils into the future and aid them in whatever they choose to do.